This is my answer to all of those (and there are more than a couple) who have asked me, "so, what is up with this thing called "Star Trek"? I have talked elsewhere about the series I like or don't like, but I want to provide some history here for those who may be new, particularly those brought into the fold by JJ Abrams; new films. To them I say welcome: there's a lot of wonderful viewing ahead of you, just remember to put it in the context of when it was made. Each show was groundbreaking in its own way, even if it seems outdated now. Each one is worth at least a look.
To the older fans who were perhaps less impressed by JJ's work, I say: Tsk tsk, young minds, fresh ideas, Mr. Scott. I recall the hullabaloo regarding each series as it came out, and how it flew in the face of "what had gone before." JJ's Trek is drawing attention, and most importantly showing Trek is financially viable despite being nearly 50 years old. You don't have to like it (though I love it like ice cream), but at least give it a tip of the hat for what it is doing to increase interest in our family.
Here's the initial overview of the shows, but below is the watchlist punctuated by "what you should know" and what season of the shows in which to find the listed episodes. It is in no way authoritative, but should give you a good taste of all of it in about as much time as it would take to watch a single season of any show. I will of course entertain any questions one might have afterwards! Some of my interstitial comments are based on supposition, either my own, or that of the amazing Mike and Denise Okuda who wrote this book, that though outdated it a must for ANY nascent or established Trekkie.
Production wise the six series and first 10 movies were made in this order:
Star Trek (often called "TOS" or "The Original Series") 1966-1969
Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) 1973-1974
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (TMP) 1979
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (TWOK) 1982
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (TSFS) 1984
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (TVH) 1986
Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) 1987-1994
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (TFF) 1989
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (TUC) 1991
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) 1993-1999
Star Trek: Generations (GEN) 1994
Star Trek: Voyager (VOY) 1995-2001
Star Trek: First Contact (FC) 1996
Star Trek: Insurrection (INS) 1998
Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT) 2001-2005
Star Trek: Nemesis (NEM) 2002
The last series, ENT, was actually set 100 years BEFORE TOS and is a prequel.
Movies 1-6 take place between TOS and TNG and feature the cast from TOS. Movies 7-10 take place after TNG with that cast, and are concurrent with some events in DS9 and VOY.
After four years out of production, Paramount released the 2009 film "Star Trek" which though connected to the original timeline above, served as both sequel and reboot with characters from the original making changes to the timeline and creating an alternate reality in the period before TOS. The sequel "Star Trek Into Darkness" (2013) continues as both sequel and reboot showing some parallel but changed events.
If you want to watch them in the order they were made, see the above list. I recommend taking an overview by following the below regimen with an "in universe" chronological order. Understand this is like Cliff's Notes, so there will be things you miss, so any questions, please just let me know. All of these are available for NETFLIX streaming. These are usually referred to as the "Prime Universe" since the new movies are out and changing the timeline.
What you need to know before you start ENT:
The various small wars around the world in the 1990s were actually the result of a number of genetically enhanced humans born in the late 60s attempting to seize power. Most were deposed, some went into hiding, and 96 of them were placed on an experimental sleeper ship in 1996 and launched into the depths of space.
In the 2020s, the economy got worse, and eventually lead to a "purist" movement (possibly influenced by leftover genetic supermen) that started WWIII. In the 2030s and 2040s much of the world was plunged back into a new dark age, and there were some nuclear exchanges in Asia that were devastating. Despite that, a man in Bozeman, Montana named Zefram Cochrane in the late 2050s started playing around with a leftover ICBM and by 2063 built the first faster than light, or "warp" drive by a human. His test flight in April 2063 drew the attention of a starfaring sentient species-the Vulcans-who found a bunch of dirty faced Homo Sapiens who now knew they weren't alone in the universe.
The discovery of warp and the arrival of the Vulcans brought a new resolve to the human race. They began to clean up their messes and unite their planet. By 2100, they were sending out colony and trade ships using their warp drives. The Vulcans would advise, but refused to actively help citing the idea that they could not interfere in human development. By the 2140s Earth has pretty much fully united, and formed a "Starfleet" often much to the Vulcan's chagrin. They wished a race that only a century before had tried to nuke itself out of existence was taking its time. Humans are hungry to grow, and a bit resentful of the Vulcans for holding them back. In 2151, the Earth Starfleet launches the NX-01, Starship Enterprise which is the first ship capable of Warp Factor 5 bringing planets that were once years away to within weeks.
Broken Bow (S1)
The Forge (S4)
The villain you see at the end of "Kir'Shara" is a Romulan. This is a warrior race who were Vulcans, but left that planet some 1500 years earlier when logic and peace began to sway that culture. All but forgotten on Vulcan, the Romulans have been preparing to stretch their influence back toward their ancestral home. In 2156 (the following year after "Kir'Shara") a war begins between Earth and Romulus, eventually bringing in the Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites, all different races near Earth. The war is so devastating, no human or ally actually sees a Romulan (they tend to destroy their own ships when faced with capture and are extremely secretive). In 2160 a treaty is negotiated via radio, and a "Neutral Zone" established between Earth allies and The Romulan Star Empire.
In 2161, the allies decide to make their friendship formal and form the United Federation of Planets. Former Starfleet Captain Jonathan Archer becomes the Federation's first president (NOTE: Though "Federation President is still on Archer's resumé, the Trek Wiki now states he was not the first, but rather served 2184-2192). The Earth Starfleet becomes the basis for the Federation Starfleet, though individuals from all member races serve. Starfleet's mission is equal parts protection and exploration, "boldly going where no man has gone before." Conflict does also break out with the Klingons eventually resulting in a Cold War type of situation with the Federation.
In 2145 the first Warp 8 capable starship is launched, the USS Enterprise, named for Archer's vessel. She is the Federation flagship and commanded by a Captain Robert April and a Captain Christopher Pike before being given to Starfleet's youngest Captain, James Tiberius Kirk. She begins a five year mission in roughly 2263 (some of these dates are conjecture based on dialog).
Balance of Terror (S1)
Space Seed (S1)
City on the Edge of Forever (S1)
Amok Time (S2)
Journey to Babel (S2)
Kirk leaves command of the Enterprise in the late 2260s and takes a promotion to Admiral. The Enterprise goes through an extensive refit, and is pressed into service early when a huge spacecraft called "V'Ger" attacks Earth in 2272 (TMP). Kirk takes Command again for that mission and continues to lead for a second five year mission. He then returns to the Admiralty and leaves now Captain Spock to command the Enterprise.
STII: The Wrath of Khan (2282)
Following the death of Spock, Kirk returns to Earth and asks to return to the Genesis planet, having discovered that Spock has left his consciousness or "katra" in Doctor McCoy. Starfleet refuses. Kirk and his crew steal the crippled ship and go to Genesis to find a Klingon vessel attempting to unlock the secrets of the planet. The world is actually unstable, but has regenerated Spock physically. After the Klingon commander Kruge kills Kirk's son David, Kirk destroys the Enterprise to kill the Klingons. He steals THEIR ship and takes his crew with the resurrected Spock to Vulcan where mind melds are used to restore Spock's mind to his body. (TSFS.) While returning to Earth for trial, Kirk and crew manage to stop an extra-galactic supership from destroying Earth (and restore the once extinct humpback whale to Earth's ecosystem). Charges for stealing the Enterprise are dropped, but Kirk is reduced in rank to Captain and put back in command of a new Starship Enterprise where he begins another five year mission (TVH) approximately 2286.
STVI: The Undiscovered Country (2291)
Following the retirement of the 1701A, Starfleet and the Federation begin a new age of peace with the Klingons, which lasts for nearly a Century with only the occasional hiccup. In approximately 2311, there is a diplomatic (and possibly military) row between the Federation and the Romulans which results in a complete lack of communication or contact between the two Governments for more than 50 years. In 2344, the Starship Enterprise NCC-1701-C does rescue some Klingons from a Romulan attack resulting in her destruction. Somewhere also in this period, the Federation engages in war with the Cardassian Union, and the Cardassians occupy a previously peaceful world known as Bajor, starting a brutal occupation that lasts for decades.
In 2363 a new "Galaxy Class" Starship Enterprise NCC-1701-D is commissioned and begins a new trend: Starships on 20 year missions where Starfleet officers may bring their families, and whole generations will be born and raised in space. In Command of the Enterprise D is Captain Jean Luc Picard, whose previous command lasted 22 years.
TNG: Q Who? (S2)
TNG: Best of Both Worlds (S3/S4)
TNG: Ensign Ro (S5)
TNG: Unification (two parts S5)
In 2369, the Cardassian occupation of Bajor ends and the Federation sends a peacekeeping force to take command of an old Cardassian mining station called "Terok Nor." The station is redesignated as Starfleet station Deep Space Nine. The command crew is integrated between Federation and Bajoran personnel. The Commander is Benjamin Sisko, a survivor of the Battle of Wolf 359 as seen in "Best of Both Worlds." The first officer, a Bajoran Major named Kira was a freedom fighter during the occupation and is now a member of the Bajoran militia. She is NOT happy with the Federation presence. During the handover of authority, Starfleet discovers there is a stable wormhole leading across the Galaxy into unexplored space, making Bajor a new frontier trade hub, and target for Cardassians who want it back.
TNG: The Inner Light (5)
DS9: Duet (S1)
DS9: The Visitor (S4)
While negotiating with the Cardassians, the Federation hands over sections of disputed space to the Union. This results in a militarized dissident faction known as "The Maquis" fighting Cardassians in the disputed areas. As this is occurring, Starfleet finds there is another advanced starfaring government in the Gamma Quadrant on the other side of the wormhole, The Dominion. They are more advanced than the Federation, and set their eyes on adding Alpha Quadrant planets to their Empire. War is inevitable. Cardassia joins the Dominion.
The 1701D is destroyed by Klingon pirates while saving a planet from a space/time anomaly. Due to the rising conflict between the Dominion and the Federation, the Enterprise 1701E eschews family space and is more built for battle. Starfleet intelligence becomes more active. (GEN)
DS9: Dr. Bashir I presume? (S5)
VOY: Caretaker (S1)
VOY: Tuvix (S2)
The Enterprise E is launched under Jean Luc Picard, 2372.
ST: First Contact (2372)
DS9: Inquisition (S6)
DS9: In the Pale Moonlight (S6)
VOY: Living Witness (S4)
VOY: Blink of an Eye (S6)
The Dominion War ends with a fragile peace and the Dominion retreating to the far side of the Wormhole. Cardassia is nearly destroyed. The peace between the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans is also fragile, but Ambassador Spock now openly works on Romulus for reunification with the Vulcans. The Voyager returns home after seven years in the Delta Quadrant in 2378.
In 2386, Ambassador Spock returns to Vulcan to ask the Federation to help protect Romulus from a strange new supernova that is expanding faster and further than should be possible. He arrives with help too late, and along with a Romulan mining ship disappears into a black hole.
Please keep in mind the model for "physics" established in Star Trek shows there are any number of alternate universes similar to the Prime; though the events of the new films are different from the "Prime" universe, that timeline has not been erased, but rather both timelines exist side by side.
Star Trek 2009 (2386/2233/2258)
Star Trek Into Darkness (2259)
This list provides one possible narrative overview of the Star Trek series, and I have tried to choose episodes that both demonstrate the message of Star Trek, and shows the connective tissue making this nearly fifty year old tale one cohesive story. If you have watched all the above, go back now and watch the series you liked the best in its entirety, and welcome to the family. There is Trek I love, Trek I hate, but in the end it is all Trek, and worth at least some consideration. It is not perfect, but I find I often love Trek not inspite of, but because of its foibles. It makes mistakes and doesn't always go the right direction…just like the Humans it examines.
("Star Trek" and all associated series, movies, or images are property of Paramount Pictures and CBS; last photo is from Empire magazine: no profit is being made from their use. Except to Trekkies who profit from knowing what to watch.)